Ken Wills

Short articles inspired by the programme collection of the late Ken Wills.

‘A Life in Opera Programmes’ 4: The Olympians, Royal Opera House, 1949

Royal Opera House: The Olympians 1949 - cover

Royal Opera House: The Olympians 1949 – covers of programmes were plainer then

Well, an interesting bit of digging around this subject. Naïvely, I had assumed that Arthur Bliss’s opera, to a libretto by JB Priestley, had been produced to chime with the 1948 London Olympic Games. In a rare fit of Olympic spirit, I thought a little piece on the work, inspired by the programme in Ken’s collection, would be of interest.

Firstly, looking through various editions of Kobbé, I couldn’t find mention of it at all. The New Penguin Opera Guide devotes a paragraph, mostly appreciative, to it. Doubtless it’s in Grove, but I don’t have a copy. The most extensive source at my disposal is therefore the Wikipedia entry on both The Olympians and Arthur Bliss himself. None of them mention the Olympic Games, so one assumes that there is no connection. The opening night was on 29 September 1949, so the fact that it premiered over a year after the 1948 Games had concluded  ought, I suppose, to have been a clue.  Anyway, to persevere… (more…)

‘A Life in Opera Programmes’ 3: The Trojans, Royal Opera House, 1972

ROH Trojans programme cover 1972

The cover of the programme for the 1972 run of The Trojans at Covent Garden.

Ken attended two performances of the 1972 run of The Trojans (note: not Les Troyens since the work was performed in an English translation by Edward Dent) and, since this was the last time it was seen in these parts prior to the 2012 extravaganza just finished, what better excuse to dip into the archive?

Two casts evidently performed, with Ken taking the admirable step of purchasing one programme and annotating the differences in cast. Common to both of them was the Aeneas of Jon Vickers, who had also taken the role in the 1969 run. 21 September brought the Dido of Josephine Veasey adjacent to the Cassandra of Jessye Norman, her debut at Covent Garden, with Elizabeth Bainbridge as Anna. Just over a fortnight later, on 7 October, Josephine Veasey had been brought forward to play Cassandra, whilst Janet Baker mounted the throne of Carthage, with Heather Begg as her sister. (more…)

‘A Life in Opera Programmes’ 2: Macbeth, Royal Opera House, 31 March 1960

1960 Royal Opera Programme - Macbeth - CoverAfter Friday’s Macbeth, I rummaged in the programmes for a bit of nostalgia, and found the foolscap heavy card programme for “the first performance at the Royal Opera House of Macbeth, Opera in Four Acts.”  Ken must have been taken with it: below 31st March is scribbled 8th April, 16th April and 7th July. (more…)

Introducing ‘A Life in Opera Programmes’: Carmen, Royal Opera, 20 January 1947

I’ve long been thinking that, if this blog is to get a bit more interesting, then I need to branch out a bit from the current model, namely a string of my half-formed thoughts on recent opera performances.  My source of inspiration, for what will hopefully become a series of occasional posts, is my partner’s late uncle, Kenneth Wills.

Ken Wills Royal Opera Programme Collection (part)

Kenneth was an enthusiastic contributor to the work of a range of operatic companies in the Kent area, including Kentish* Opera as a chorus member, and other such heartwarming endeavours as the West Wickham Operatic Society.  He was a lifelong operagoer.  When he died, a few years ago, my partner’s aunt offered to us his carefully curated collection of opera programmes, the core of which is a collection of Royal Opera programmes, some annotated, some with signatures, and all catalogued, going back to 1947.  They make for a powerful account of a life dedicated to climbing those draughty stone steps from the side entrance up to the Amphitheatre of the pre-refurbishment Royal Opera House.  She retained the catalogue, to share the memories, so at some point – probably when my MBA dissertation is finally out of the way – I’ll create a substitute electronic catalogue.  For now though, it is interesting simply to dip in and reflect on individual performances from a life of operagoing expressed through this programme collection.  I hope also that it is, in some small way, a tribute to Ken Wills’ modest but determined contribution to opera, whether through Kent Opera or through being a loyal audience member at Covent Garden, Sadler’s Wells and the Coliseum. (more…)